From Vietnam to Florida: ropeways from Vorarlberg

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The transport solutions of the future are being created in Wolfurt, as ropeways are increasingly conquering urban areas and not only mountains

More than 3,100 employees in 50 countries around the world plan, develop, design, manufacture and build a wide variety of ropeways. To date, transport solutions from Austria – whether for passenger or material transport – can be found in around 96 countries. Alexander Klimmer is at the helm of the international ropeway giant, whose history began in 1893 with its foundation by Konrad Doppelmayr.

In 130 years of company history, you have built more than 15,400 installations worldwide and have become the world market leader. What makes your transport systems so sought-after and unique?
Alexander Klimmer: The long history and experience, in combination with pioneering spirit and innovative strength, form the basis for the worldwide success of Doppelmayr ropeways. In addition, partnership-based customer relationships are very important. As ropeways are very individual projects, they are created in very close cooperation with the customers. They are specifically adapted to the customers’ requirements so that passengers get the greatest benefit, the highest level of comfort and the best ropeway experience.

With your installation in Vietnam, which connects two islands, Doppelmayr holds the world record for the longest ropeway in the world at 7,900 metres. Was that a special challenge and is there a maximum feasible length?
Klimmer: Every ropeway is a special challenge. Ropeways with world records are, of course, too. The location on the Vietnamese islands is very unusual and required very well-coordinated execution and logistics during assembly. So far, this is the longest installation we have implemented in one section. The feasibility of such an installation is influenced by the topography, among other factors, but also by its usage. Since ropeways are limited in their travel speed, a long section also means a corresponding travel time. Doppelmayr is actively driving innovation – exemplified by the recently launched TRI Line and the single-cable ropeway for 20 passengers with a corresponding new cabin. With both systems, an unprecedented transport capacity of 8,000 passengers per hour and direction becomes possible. This means that the limits of ropeway technology are also being continuously pushed by technological progress.

How much have ropeways changed over the decades – from a pure means of transport to a luxury cabin?
Klimmer: In most cases, the driving forces behind innovations in ropeways are safety, performance and comfort. The latter refers, on the one hand, to the comfort of the ropeway employees who work on the ropeway every day as well as perform maintenance. This should be as comfortable and simple as possible. This is also how we develop our components. The other comfort factor relates to the passengers – they should be as comfortable as possible during the ride. Enough space, a great view, entertainment during the ride, accessible boarding, ergonomic seats, heating, air conditioning, WiFi and much more. Over the decades, cable cars have definitely changed – they have evolved for the better.

Due to the increase in energy costs, we have heard again and again that heated seats, for example, are being switched off. Will the ropeway of the future be more energy-efficient?
Klimmer: The ropeway is a very sustainable mobility solution. There is, as everywhere, potential for savings in ropeway systems, and switching off the heated seats is one of them.

How much does sustainability play a role at Doppelmayr?
Klimmer: Both in the production of components such as gondolas and masts and in construction. Sustainability plays a major role, of course, both for us as a company and as a partner for our customers, who are very committed to the careful use of resources in their regions.

Are your carrier systems for mountain bikes a way to shift business to the summer months?
Klimmer: The solutions for transporting bicycles, mountain carts etc. enable our customers to operate their ropeways economically in the summer months as well. Our customers create attractive offers for this, and we as a solution provider have the right products to support this development economically and sustainably. That’s why there is a suitable solution for all ropeway systems, whether chairlifts, gondola lifts or surface lifts.

How have digitisation and connectivity changed your ropeway systems and where is the use of AI possible?
Klimmer: At Doppelmayr we use AI in various areas. At the product level, our autonomous ropeway, AURO (Autonomous Ropeway Operation), is a good example. We have introduced autonomous operation in gondola lifts, one example being the Valisera lift in © Doppelmyr The Ha Long Queen ropeway in Vietnam spans the bay between Vinh Ha Long and Cua Luc Bay for 2,165 metres. St. Gallenkirch. In the meantime, autonomous operation is also possible for chairlifts. Here, intelligent image recognition is used in the exit area in particular. At the service level, we are increasingly using the possibilities of digitisation and AI in the area of condition-based maintenance (CBM). In this context, we use machine learning algorithms to find correlations between operating data of ropeway components and other data such as weather data. This enables our customers to predict maintenance activities in a very targeted manner and to plan them efficiently. These functions flow into our resort management platform Clair; the so-called Smart Maintenance is an application in this system. AI tasks are also finding their way into our processes, e.g. for automated translations, combined with our ‘ropeway dictionary’. We are convinced that we will develop many more exciting features and possibilities in the digital area that our customers can use for safe and efficient ropeway operations.
And also in our processes, AI functions are making their way, for example, for automated translations, combined with our 'Cable Car Dictionary.' We are convinced that we will develop many exciting features and possibilities in the digital realm that our customers can use for a safe and efficient cable car operation.

What are the challenges of building urban ropeways like the one in Istanbul?
Klimmer: The advantages of urban ropeways come to the fore in an impressive way, especially during construction. Short construction times, a minimal footprint on the ground in the case of aerial ropeways and direct connections on a new level are just a few examples. Coordination of the individual construction sites is an important issue as well as logistics in the city so that the existing infrastructure is not affected during construction. Therefore, work often takes place at night.

How do you see the future of ropeways in urban environments, as they are repeatedly discussed and considered in Vienna, where you are also involved?
Klimmer: e see very great potential for ropeways in the city; this is already being impressively confirmed by numerous successful projects worldwide. In Europe, too, we are convinced that ropeways will find their way into public transport, as they are a perfect complement to the existing infrastructure network and can close gaps where there are still traffic problems in public transport. One example is our project in the greater Paris area, which will start operations in 2025. The project in Vienna is a private initiative co-developed by our competitor from Italy.

What is the significance of material ropeways, and can they play a greater role in transport concepts in the future?
Klimmer: Doppelmayr has product solutions that are used exclusively for material transport. One example is the RopeCon, which transports bulk and general cargo of all kinds. This solution is used in mining, for example, but also in renaturation. In an urban context, the combined transport of people and goods is an interesting task. With the Eiger Express in Grindelwald, we have already implemented such a system – fully automated with a modern intralogistics solution and a newly developed loading robot.

A special project is the replica of the Hogwarts Express from the Harry Potter franchise for the Universal Orlando Resort, with a funicular inside the steam locomotive.
Klimmer: The Hogwarts Express is an excellent example of how the Doppelmayr Group implements customer wishes. The task was to create a 1:1 replica of the Hogwarts Express from the Harry Potter films, with proven funicular technology and a unique carriage design. The result speaks for itself.

What has been the most complicated or exciting project so far? Klimmer: Every project is exciting because each has its own story.
Klimmer: Every project is exciting because each has its own story. And with every project that you have supervised or visited yourself, you associate your own story. The fact that every installation is unique is the beauty of our industry.